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Sports Team Tryouts: The Controversy Over Cutting

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Thirteen years ago, on their first day of their first year of middle school, my triplet sons each received a thick green booklet packed with school rules and policies, and survival tips for incoming sixth graders .  Parents were provided with a copy of the same booklet.

Printed on the inside of the front cover was a selection of 295 tips from the complete booklet given out to freshman at the high school titled "Advice to incoming freshman from those who have made it." The booklet was written by the high school faculty, staff and twelfth grade students.

Prominently placed at the top of the list of tips was #4: Tryout for at least one sport each year.  Number 5 stated: "If a person says hello or waves to you, respond." Number 11 warned, "Avoid leaving your stuff around; you may never see it again," Number 15 advised to  "Avoid shortcuts on homework." And so on all the way down the list.

Out of all of the handouts my sons received during their school years, I saved a few that I found poignant and important.  The front cover, with its list on the back, recently turned up in an old file folder.  It was stapled to the cover of the booklet which they received three years later on their first day of high school titled: Advice to incoming freshman from those who have made it: 295 tips.

While I am not a sentimental hoarder of piles of old school stuff, I am sentimental and do recall the specific reason for saving the list. It was just about that time when I first began writing a book with the working title, A Parents Survival Guide to Youth Sports.   I knew that the list, and in particular, tip number 4, was powerful and worth incorporating into the book.

Although my literary agent found tremendous interest in the book from the top publishing houses, each wanted me to write a series of books because, as one said, "she has so much great information and wisdom to share." 

At the time my first book was being "shopped around" my love affair with the Internet was growing.  I concluded that no book, as a limited container of content, could compete with the Internet, so I decided instead to launch MomsTeam.com and put the book idea on the shelf.  

When I dusted off the book idea three years ago and began writing  Home Team Advantage the powerful 295 Tips list resurfaced in a crate of sports-related information as I was  researching information for Chapter Fourteen, my favorite chapter: The Controversy Over Cutting

From working deep in the trenches with literally tens of thousands of sports parents over the years I view the practice of cutting athletes from middle or high school teams as arguably the most controversial practice in youth sports all the way through high school years. While it is true that it is important for kids to learn the value of overcoming obstacles with hard work and how to grow through failure, the fact is that being cut from a middle school or high school sports team is often one of the most upsetting and traumatic events in a teenager's life.

I believe that the goal of childhood should be to prepare children for adulthood by giving them a chance to develop coping skills and the self-confidence needed to succeed in the adult world in a safe and nurturing environment. 

There are many folks working in the youth sports field who agree with me that cutting isn't necessary to ensure strong athletic programs, that the goals of school-based athletics are educational; that to teach the athletic and - yes, social skills  - teenagers will need to both compete and collaborate as adults, the practice is outmoded and deprives a greater percentage of student athletes who want to keep playing sports every year.

Think about it.  In 1924, when interscholastic sports were in their infancy, the average size of a high school was 128 students. Today, the average size is roughly 1,840 students. Yet, all schools still only have one boys varsity basketball, football and baseball team.  No longer is there a roster spot for every child who wants to play, which was the case in 1924.

With the tryouts for fall sports over and the cuts having been made, it is no wonder that the majority of  e-mail questions I have been getting lately all ask variations on the same theme: How can we eliminate this antiquated practice and adopt sports programs in our middle schools and high schools that give every student wanting to play an opportunity to continue playing? 

I can't tell you how many times a mother or father writes asking what to do now that their child, who has  played soccer all the way through 11th grade, has been cut from the varsity in his senior year.

It is time we as a nation grasp the importance of belonging to a school team. Not just playing intramural sports, but having a roster spot on the team that competes against other towns. The kids know it.  Even high school boys list the number one reason for playing sports is -To Have FUN!

One of our staff, a mom of freshman high school boy/girl twins , came into work last week with a similar booklet to the one my sons came home with.  One of the tips was  "Participate on a school team."  Except instead of being listed #4, it was now #1.

Like the booklet my sons got, the booklet given to her twins was compiled from hundreds of suggestions by faculty, staff and twelfth grade students.

My question is this: if participating on a school team is always at or near the top of the list of tips for incoming first-year students, why is it that our schools can't seem to find a way to provide interscholastic sports to every child who wants to play? 

It is too late to do anything about the cuts that have been made for this fall season.  But it isn't too late to start thinking about the next sports season, and the one after that. 

By reading this blog and by visiting YouthSportsParents, you have demonstrated a committment to our mission of making youth sports more inclusive.  The YouthSportsParents community represents a powerful group of parents. Let's begin the work!  One of our members has started a forum  on cutting to start the conversation.  I encourage you to join the discussion. 

As controversial a subject as cutting is, we need to talk about it if we are ever to see more kids involved in after school sports.

Oh, and last on the list of tips from 1996 and 2008? Have Fun and Good Luck!